Opera Scotland

Suor Angelica 2016Opera North

Read more about the opera Suor Angelica

For their Edinburgh visit in autumn 2016, Opera North promised two programmes of twentieth century masterworks - a double-bill of a pair from Puccini's triptych (Il tabarro and Suor Angelica)  on Wednesday and Friday, alternating with Britten's Billy Budd (Thursday and Saturday).

None of these fine works has ever been seen at the Edinburgh Festival. While Scottish Opera staged the Britten memorably a quarter century ago (in a co-production with Opera North), they have never presented the Puccini pieces. Indeed, apart from a single performance by ETO of Il tabarro at the Perth Festival, we need to look back to the 1950s for professional stagings of these incisive tragedies in Scotland.

Unlike Tabarro, this was a completely new staging. Michael Barker-Caven, having rehearsed the first piece, was completely responsible for the second, doing an excellent job of differentiating the characters and setting out the context. After her recent Scottish performances as Butterfly and Rusalka, Anne Sophie Duprels was ideal casting as Angelica. She gave a memorable performance of both Giorgetta and Angelica in London (at Holland Park) in 2015. Here, supported by Anthony Kraus's orchestra, she delivered a superbly controlled performance that gripped the audience.

The set was simple - a large screen spreading across the stage, with tall window apertures. It was angled to show the nuns at prayer behind it - then moved forward to narrow the playing area to a more claustrophobic space for the aunt's oppressive visit. Finally, it swung away to the side to reveal an attractive rose window at the apotheosis. The only miscalculation came here with the projection of a kind of star-child which for this reviewer at least did not quite work. The period chosen was only revealed with the costume worn by Angelica's aunt at her entry.

The supporting cast was led by the mighty presence of Patricia Bardon as the aunt. This appalling character has only ten minutes in which to make her presence felt, and needs a performer of true impact, which it certainly had here. That a singer of international repute and at the top of her game should be willing to take such a short but vital part speaks volumes. The rest of the cast gave excellent support, with several welcome familiar faces including Fiona Kimm, Louise Collett and Marie-Claire Breen.

The supposed cheap, sugary sentimentality, of which this work has for decades been accused, now seems a thing of the past. Perhaps our increasingly secular society allows us now to see it as a period piece in which the religion simply forms another thread.

Performance DatesSuor Angelica 2016

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Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

30 Nov, 19.15 2 Dec, 19.15

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